The New Year's Quilt By Jennifer Chiaverini
I have had a couple of books on my table for several months waiting for just the right time to read the literary equivalent of "comfort food". On a few cold snowy days recently, when I was home alone, I took the opportunity to baste a big quilt and read The Quilter's Homecoming and The New Year's Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini. This writer has made a career of writing novels about a group of women who call themselves The Elm Creek Quilters.
The series has a strong following of readers who are, of course, quilters. I am almost - but not quite - ashamed to admit to both reading and enjoying them.
Jennifer Chiaverini has improved as a writer over the course of the many books in the series, and there is comfort found in reading about characters who have become imaginary friends.
The Quilter's Homecoming takes the reader back in time to the 1920s and the late 1800s. We travel with a newly wed couple, Elizabeth and Henry Nelson, from Pennsylvania to California, where we meet other families who have farmed there for several generations. Of course the story includes lots of quilting history and it is the quilts left behind, or lost or found, that tell the story.
When Elizabeth finds two old quilts in her new home she wonders who made them, and thinks of the women who came before her to the west.
She also finds comfort in working on a quilt when she cannot sleep because of her worries.
It is often at times of loss and change that women turn to quilting - they find that it occupies the mind as well as the body, and does, very much, provide relief from worries. One of the things that appeals to me about quilting is the fact that it was a woman's work.
Our female ancestors quilted to provide warm bed covers for their families and enjoyed the pleasure of gathering together sometimes for a few precious hours to work on a quilt.
In my grandmother's farm house in New Brunswick, there was always a quilt on a frame, where her many daughters and daughters-in-law gathered to quilt, share news of their families, and to find strength in each other's company.
This novel provides a vivid picture of California as it changes from unsettled wild countryside, to farmland and, even in the 1920's, to cities and suburbs.
The farm families are very concerned about recent droughts and worried about the future scarcity of water for all of these homes. Descriptions of life on the farm in California, with herds of sheep and orchards of apricots, make for a fascinating story. After many hardships, things do end "happily ever after" for Elizabeth and Henry.
When I closed the covers I thought "oh what a soppy book!" I had simply devoured it - and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The New Year's Quilt brings us back to the present and a character we know well from earlier books in the series, Sylvia Compson, and her new husband, Andrew. As the New Year approaches Sylvia is working on a quilt as a gift for Andrew's adult daughter, Amy.
Sylvia works on the quilt while she and Andrew are visiting friends in New York City, where she has time for a visit to The City Quilter - one of my own stops on every visit.
While Sylvia quilts she remembers New Years of the past, and the resolutions she did not make.
There is an estrangement now between Amy and her father because of his marriage to Sylvia - as there was a life-long estrangement in the past between Sylvia and her sister Claudia.
Sylvia now believes in New Years "Reflections" as she remembers the years of her past, and with the wisdom that comes with maturity, she regrets decisions not made that would have brought her family together before it was too late.
Sylvia is determined to find a way to bring Amy and her father together again. Sylvia works on the quilt she plans to give to Amy, fearing that Amy will never forgive her father, but hoping that she will.
As Sylvia puts the last stitches into the binding of Amy's quilt she wonders what the year ahead will bring, and knows that "with loved ones by her side and loving memories of those who had gone before in her heart, she would move into the future with courage and hope that the best is yet to be, if she did her part to make it so." Oh, what a soppy book.